You often hear of video game success stories on Kickstarter followed by many delays and a launched product that wasn’t at all what was promised. Thankfully, I don’t think that’s going to be the case for Cardboard Utopia’s Children of Zodiarcs, coming to PlayStation 4 and PC on July 18.
So let’s look back at what Cardboard Utopia first promised when they launched their Kickstarter back in January of 2016: “A new Tactical JRPG with collectible cards and craftable dice combined with classic tactical gameplay, rich story, and memorable music.” The pitch seems to focus on the genre, but after spending time with the game, I’ve got to say this is so much more than anything I expected.
Children of Zodiarcs begins with a heist: the player assumes the role of a rebel group who is attempting to fight back against a corrupt system. We first meet Zirchhoff, who might resemble a character you’d expect to face off against as end boss, but is actually the leader of the rebels. After a brief fight tutorial, we meet two young rebel members, Nahmi and Pester, who are attempting to steal a relic from the chambers of a noble. Although their introductions are brief, you quickly find out what skills and personalities they each bring to the table.
Nahmi is a skilled blade user who can easily take on groups of enemies alone and come out with HP to spare. On the other hand, Pester is more of a lazy thief who, for one reason or another has deep knowledge of random things, uses a gun in battle, and is best kept as far away from enemies as possible.
During the first mission, the rebels run into a girl by the name of Brice who has equipped a “Zodiarc Gauntlet” to her hand. These Zodiarc weapons attach themselves to the wielder and hold enormous power. As Brice gets to know the characters and their backstory, so does the player: this allowed me to easily get attached to each character rather quickly because I could be introduced to the rebel group at the same time as Brice.
So let’s talk about the battle system. When I hear that a developer is creating a tactical RPG that takes influences from classic games of the same genre, I expect them to simply copy old systems and clone dated mechanics. Now, sometimes this works and feeds the nostalgic hunger that older gamers have from time to time, but it can often do little to fulfill any lasting experiences.
At its core, Children of Zodiarcs is a tactical RPG where the player takes actions on a grid-based field while working towards any victory conditions that are presented. This can range from simply defeating all the enemies on the field to reaching a point on the map without dying. With that said, this game takes these tried and true tactical RPG battle mechanics that fans expect and introduces them to the world of tabletop deck building. When in range for an attack, players will be able to pick cards drawn from the character’s personal deck – seven in total at a time. Each attack card has a base attack power, but these can be increase depending on the face value of the dice you roll. Yes, that’s right: after each card is played, the player is able to be power up the action with a roll of a dice, which even includes healing cards.
These dice in play can have a number of effects on the player. For example, shield icons defend against counter attacks, while lightning bolts can give you an additional action: each roll could be the one that changes the tide of battle. In addition to using cards and dice, the player has the option to build their own deck in order to complement their play style. Personally, I made sure that each character in my party had enough healing cards to use in case battles got tough. However, having too many of a card type could mean having a hand of one type of card when you desperately need another. Finding this balance is crucial as more cards get added to your deck: the time I spent asking myself if I really needed more than three of a certain card reminded me of the hours I spent playing Magic: The Gathering with friends.
After every battle you have the option to participate in skirmishes that take place on previous battlefields: this gives the players a chance to grind out a few levels and acquire new cards to power up their decks. In addition to fighting, players have the option to talk to party members and hear more about their situation. Reading through these side conversations between characters is necessary for learning all there is to know about who each character is and where they came from.
It’s not difficult to see that I am absolutely loving every minute of Children of Zodiarcs. The game takes the tactical RPG genre and improves on it in multiple ways by adding unique systems and a story that won’t be easily forgotten. Looking back at the Kickstarter, Cardboard Utopia delivered exactly what they proposed, and at same time developed one of the best games that I’ve ever seen come from the crowdfunding website.